2020 Indigenous Hemp Conference gathers industry leaders

Crystal Owen holds a bag made from hemp as she talks about the new hemp industries being developed at the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate nation.

University of Minnesota and Minnesota Department of Agriculure researchers and tribal leaders from more than a dozen tribes around the country met in early March at Maplelag Resort in Calloway for the third annual Indigenous Hemp Conference.

The conference is part of the Indigenous Farming Conference, initiated by The Anishinaabe Agriculture Institute at White Earth. In a keynote address, Winona LaDuke talked about the history of hemp in the U.S., and the potential for it to form the basis of a new, green economy. She showed a short film titled, Misunderstood: A Brief History of Hemp in the U.S.

Speakers from around the country spoke about initiatives that are creating new industries around industrial hemp, hemp breeding and growing, medicinal hemp growing, processing and marketing, and environmental remediation using hemp.

Southwest U.S. tribes (Navajo, Hopi and Apache), spoke about using hemp to mitigate soil toxicity from uranium mine waste. They are also using hemp plantations to restore the hydrologic cycle on land that has been desertified by decades of poor farming practices.

Anthony Cortilet of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture provided an update on state and federal hemp regulations and shared a hemp economic feasibility study.  Much of the future potential for small hemp growers rests on the development of appropriate scale processing infrastructure and the modification of regulations so that they don’t inhibit grower success.

One issue that came up repeatedly is the new federal regulations which are more restrictive and place more of the burden of testing on growers. States are taking various strategies to deal with the new regulations while discussions continue at the federal level.

Crystal Owen, a planner for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate nation in northeastern South Dakota said that one of the main obstacles she encounters in trying to promote hemp is its association with ‘illegal’ marijuana that has been associated with drug use. Owen brought samples of hemp articles, including hemp bags, hemp cups, hemp hearts and  hemp paper, which are some of the focal points of the S-W Oyate Hemp Economic Feasibility Study. .

“CBD is like a shiny thing people are pursuing right now,” said Owen, “but we are looking to the future with industrial applications for hemp, which we believe have staying power in the new economy.”

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